Seaweed diseases: understanding seaweed host-pathogen interactions to improve commercial seaweed production, PhD in Medical Sciences Studentship

UK – Wild harvesting and farming of seaweed for food, feed, fertiliser and alginate is a rapidly growing industry. In the UK, the demand for seaweed for food has soared in recent years, and several species are now being sold as ‘super foods’. Located in the South West, The Cornish Seaweed Company is the largest English company sustainably wild harvesting and cultivating a range of native seaweeds including Saccharina lattisima (sugar kelp) and Palmaria palmata (dulse).

Sugar kelp is one of the most important largescale economically cultivated seaweeds in Europe. Dulse is the most sought-after culinary seaweed but with limited stock in Europe and fast-growing demand. Disease triggered by pathogenic microbes is increasingly recognized as a major factor in the global degradation of natural marine ecosystems. Diseases also have an important economic impact, decreasing the yield of farmed seaweeds (global value of US$ 6 billion p.a. (World Bank 2016)) by at least 40 %. Bleaching spot (BS) 50/95 disease, for which we have identified Pseudoalteromona sarctica and Pseudoaltero monas piscicida as causative agents (M. Saha, unpublished data), can decrease sugar kelp and dulse yields in both nursery and field cultivations.

The main aims of the project are:

(a) to enhance fundamental knowledge on seaweed infectious diseases
(b) to apply this knowledge to improve aquaculture practices and maximise yield in seaweed farming in the South West and beyond.

Objectives (O):

O1: Knowing that abiotic factors play a critical role in inducing or preventing microbial diseases by modifying seaweeds chemical defence against pathogens (Saha etal., under review), the student will determine the optimal light, temperature and salinity regime for indoor cultures to prevent BS disease.
O2: Using anti-microbial assays (settlement and growth bioassays), test whether the chemical defence (against pathogens) of both seaweeds is upregulated at optimal abiotic conditions.
O3: Using bioassay-guided fractionation and mass spectrometry, isolate and identify the seaweed antimicrobials produced.
O4: Use metabolomics to see whether there are qualitative and quantitative differences in metabolite production between healthy and diseased individuals.
O5: Use high-throughput sequencing to characterise the microbiota of healthy and diseased individuals.
O6: Knowing that seaweed- associated bacteria form a vast reservoir of anti-microbial diversity, the student will use culture-based approaches to screen for (beneficial) bacteria with anti-microbial activity against seaweed pathogens. The student will screen potentially beneficial bacteria from healthy individuals for production and identification of anti-microbials 51 / 95 against the respective pathogen.


To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria.

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover

• a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-2021
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification or experience is required.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.5 in any section by the start of the project. Alternative tests may be acceptable, please see

Equivalent qualifications/experience

Physics A-level (grade B and above)
Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component*
*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

How to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:

Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project. Please indicate your preferred project choice if applying for multiple BBSRC SWBio DTP projects.
Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained. This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
Two academic referees – see information below about references.
If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English (see entry requirements above)
The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday, 7 December 2020. Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between w/c 25 January – w/c 1st February 2021.

Apply now 

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